By Alice Park
June 4, 2015

There’s a good amount of data linking people who report high work stress and obesity. But how much of that relationship is due to stress triggering normal-weight people to gain weight, and can lowering job strain also help workers to slim down?

To find out, a group of European researchers analyzed eight studies involving more than 60,000 workers who reported on-job stress and allowed scientists to record their weight over time. Reporting in the International Journal of Obesity, they say that a high-stress job can’t be blamed for the extra pounds.

They found no link in the studies between reported job stress and weight gain or obesity, and to cement that finding, they also reported that people who reported a drop in job strain didn’t report a corresponding drop in weight.

The one group that did put on pounds, however, were workers who went from a relatively stress-free working situation into one where they experienced more job-related anxiety. That suggests that the change in stress levels might be more important to weight gain than a consistent level of stress.

While the authors admit that the way people defined job stress in the eight studies varied, and therefore make the findings a little harder to interpret, the large number of workers involved and the overall lack of association between stress levels and weight hints that perhaps work worries aren’t the weight-gaining culprit that many of us like to think they are. Still, they say that the connection is worth studying more, since it’s not clear whether people under stress tend to eat more or less in response to their anxiety, and addressing psychological well being in the work environment is a good way to improve overall health too.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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